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Tennessee vs ENMU: Recap and Analysis

by | Oct 30, 2019

The Tennessee Volunteers opened up their 2019-2020 basketball season against the Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds on Wednesday night in the Vols’ lone exhibition game of the pre-season. While the Vols clearly outman and out size the Greyhounds, Eastern New Mexico arrived in Knoxville prepared to embrace the challenge of playing as a visitor in Thompson Boling Arena. The point of emphasis to watch for most Tennessee fans was who the Vols looked to use to replace Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone, and Kyle Alexander, guys that had made TBA such a difficult place to play. After so much success, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes had to turn the page to the next chapter for Tennessee basketball, and the opening stanzas were penned Wednesday night as the Vols rolled to 107-59 victory.

Barnes wanted his starting five to be made up of returning players, so the Vols tipped things on from one to five with a lineup of Lamonte Turner, Jaylen Johnson, Jordan Bowden, Yves Pons, and John Fulkerson. This starting five gave the Vols a substantial amount of big game experience, as well as a significant amount of size. The Vols looked effective in this lineup as their scoring was initially sparked by the anticipated offensive leader…. John Fulkerson?

Fulky got things started for the Vols with six quick points and had eleven by the end of the game, despite yielding serious minutes to Zach Kent and Yves Pons. While Fulkerson provided the first flurry of points for the Big Orange, the script soon settled in on the pair of stars in Tennessee’s backcourt, as Turner and Bowden began to pour in points, both in double figures by the half, both ending the game with over twenty points each. For all his scoring prowess, Turner already showed a greater command of the floor with sharp, clean passes. Tennessee’s floor general looked as if the game was playing through at the pace he set. Turner looks to have settled into the role vacated by Jordan Bone, and played very much like Bone as he ran Tennessee’s offense. That smooth-running offense was often predicated off getting the ball to fellow senior Jordan Bowden. Bowden scored from deep and from the paint, showing why he may be the most dangerous, pure offensive threat that the Vols have. Last season Barnes counted on at least one member of this dynamic duo to come off the bench and provide points, this season he is relying on them to be the primary offensive weapons, a task they looked up to against the Greyhounds.
Another important note on the starters for Tennessee is on Yves Pons. Pons looks as if he hasn’t left the weight room since Tennessee arrived home from Knoxville after the NCAA Tournament. Pons has always been an incredible physical specimen, but the amount of muscle he has packed onto his frame since last season is immediately evident. The Vols lost an incredible amount of production from last season, much of it from their front court. As one of the few returning big men for this team, Pons will be asked to play more minutes as a four, fighting for rebounds and playing physical defense in the post. As the Vols are playing more guard heavy, looking to run more than seasons past, Pons’ abilities in transition should make him a versatile asset for Barnes. That said, the Flying Frenchman did show another astounding dunk in this game, showcasing his incredible hops, and a newly found three point shot that he hit a few times. Pons player everywhere from wing to center for the Vols on offense while showing his usual, scrappy, on-ball defense.

Like last season, the Vols have a long bench that enables Barnes to put a lineup on the floor to handle whatever the other team throws at Tennessee. Unlike last season, when Barnes goes to the bench this year he will be pulling from an extremely young group of players. Names such as Josiah Jordan James, Olivier Nkamhoua, Drew Pember, Devonte Gaines, and Zach Kent. There are some seriously talented players for the Vols in those young guys, primarily James and Nkamhoua, who should be immediate and major factors for the Vols this season. James already looks to be a quality defender and as good as advertised in terms of distributing the basketball. The rest of his offensive game will develop as the season goes on, but James gives the Vols a true point guard, capable of running their offense while taking away a quality scorer on the other end. Nkamhoua showed a knack for finding the basketball, getting up for a rebound, and finding a put back. He is a quick, skilled athlete that has a lot of tools and tremendous upside. Both the freshmen look to be able to help Tennessee right away. Late in the game, another freshman, Drew Pember, came down awkwardly after going for a rebound. He left the floor without putting weight on his right ankle. Pember is a versatile player, and one that Barnes has seemed excited about.

As a unit, Tennessee was too sloppy in the first half, with double digit turnovers. Most of these looked to be more from these new Vols learning to play with one another than particularly good defense by the Greyhounds. As Tennessee’s players spent more time on the court together, the turnovers slowed down substantially. As the game went on, the Vols showed that this could again be an incredibly fun team to watch, as they played with pace, distributed the ball all over the floor, showed hustle plays, good ball movement, three-point shots, and some highlight dunks, all with multiple combinations on the floor. Perhaps the only truly troubling thing for Tennessee was an old problem rearing up early. Despite an outstanding, swarming defense that smother Eastern New Mexico all night, the Vols gave up several long, difficult, improbable threes to Greyhound guard Tyler Pullum early in the first quarter. Though the Vols ultimately pulled away, the history of those kind of threes hurting the Vols can’t be written off. It is a certainty that despite just shy of a fifty point victory, Barnes will be hounding his Vols for those mistakes tomorrow morning.

The exhibition is over, and after their 107-59 point victory, the Vols start the regular season on Tuesday against UNC Asheville. While Tennessee answered several questions tonight, a huge one remains between now and Tuesday at 7 eastern. It looms over 7 feet actually. Tennessee transfer center Uros Plasvic did not play tonight against the Greyhounds as he awaits a ruling on his NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility. As good as the Vols looked, especially with the post play of Fulkerson and Pons, the addition of Plasvic to this Tennessee team could make them a different animal entirely, with an entirely new dimension. What the NCAA rules on Plasvic will be the biggest storyline going forward for the Vols, along with the health of Pember.

Brandon Martin

Brandon Martin

Senior Recruiting Analyst

Brandon Martin is from the mountains of southeast Tennessee, a proud alumnus of ETSU, and has ended up living in Nashville after stints in Memphis and the Tri-Cities.

Football season takes him all over the Southeast, covering games in the Nashville-Middle Tennessee region, East Tennessee, Memphis-West Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia. He covers all things UT with a focus on Recruiting and Tennessee Basketball. If you see him at a game, please, come say hello.

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